A Series of Unfortunate Events

The Dallas Stars still think they have a chance of making the top eight in the Western Conference by season’s end. They believe they’ll be able to do it. Last week, they said the next 11 games will be the true predictor if they’d be able to carry on into the post-season.

They lost the first of those 11 games to the Nashville Predators, followed by a shootout loss on Thursday night against the number two Western Conference seeded Anaheim Ducks. Dallas has fallen to 11th place in the West. They are five points away from the fourth seeded team, and only three points from the last seeded team. In other words, a lucky surge of wins could carry any of the 13 teams in the West into the post-season.

Does the Dallas Stars have what it takes to ride that wave?

If you were watching the series of unfortunate events in the Thursday game versus the Ducks, you would think that the Stars had a brush of bad luck. It all started when Derek Roy found a loose puck in front of Anaheim netminder Jonas Hiller. With a quick flip of the wrist, the puck went sailing into the net over Hiller’s head.

As the arena began to celebrate, the official, Marc Joanette, came across the ice waving the goal off. He was behind the net and had lost sight of the puck when Hiller covered it. He blew the whistle. Hiller never had the puck secure. It was loose and Roy found it and scored…but the whistle prevented the goal from counting. It was very unfortunate for the Stars, because that goal would have put them over the Ducks 2-1.

At 11:09 in the second period, Reilly Smith thought he had a goal too. He was even celebrating the goal behind the net. The play continued on. A confused Jaromir Jagr stood there watching the puck being carried out of the zone. The goal horn had gone off. Fans were cheering. What happened?

A review showed the puck never went in.

In the final period, as the final minutes were winding down, Jagr fell victim to another Dallas no-goal. What looked like a goal, horns blowing, and the fans out of their seats cheering, Jagr found himself sliding across the ice on his stomach.  He came to a stop, lying on the ice…thinking the goal was as good as gold, only to find out he hit the post. It never crossed the line.

That’s three unlucky strikes in one game. Adding to those unfortunate events is the loss of one of their leading scorers to a wrist injury (Jamie Benn).

When Benn returns to the lineup, which could be any game now, he faces another challenge…synching with his linemate, Jagr.

Just recently Jagr said that they were at 30% getting things to work.

“I think we are about 30 percent of what we can play,” Jagr said. “We can get a lot better. I play a different style than he is used to, but it’s tough for me at my age to change. I cannot dump and chase, I’m not fast for that. So I like to keep the pucks, and he has to adjust. I know it’s not his game, but he is so far doing a good job.’’

Considering there’s a month and a half remaining of the regular season, getting to even 50-60% seems very unrealistic for this hope to count towards a good run to the season end for this line.

Without Benn on the first line, Jagr has been paired with two 21 year olds, Cody Eakin and Reilly Smith. Without Benn, Jagr’s first line has dropped down in ice time and have become the second line. They generated 8 of the 34 shots on goal in Thursday’s contest. The second line of Ray Whitney-Derek Roy-Loui Eriksson have jumped up to the first line…producing the lone goal in the game for the Stars. This line spent over 24 minutes each on the ice generating 7 combined shots on goal.

With the injuries that have plagued some of the top players on the Stars during the first part of the season, this handicapped team has struggled to stay on top through the first half of the shortened season. It’s hard to predict whether this team has a chance in the last half.

Thursday’s Dallas Morning News talked about Whitney as if he was a stranger to the Dallas Stars, due to his early season injury. He showed up on Thursday night. If the fans didn’t know who he was, he lit up the lamp, scoring at 12:35 in the first period.

Perhaps Whitney’s return could be the answer to what was missing on the Stars. As of now, it remains to be seen.

As for their special teams, it’s a no brainer that it needs a lot of work.

“My first take is it was a little sloppy,” Coach Glen Gulutzan said after the loss. “Turnovers in the first caused a few chances for them. Specialty teams, they [Ducks] created more when we were on the power play than we did and I know that after the second period they had 10 shots on goal on their power play. We need to look at our specialty teams to see why we are giving up chances when we are on the power play.”

The main issue with their power play is how they execute it. It’s one huge mess. They should take a page out of the New Jersey Devil’s playbook…push the PK unit in, and play a little tic tac toe. Play the unit a little tighter. As of now, their power play unit is spread out too far which allows for a lot of breakdown and opportunities for the opponent to capitalize on a pass gone wrong. Most plays are easy to figure out for those who have studied offensive measures in various sports. For the Stars, they lack that organization and discipline on the power play. They’re usually all over the place.

In some games it appears that they are just skating in, trying to put puck on net without any significant set up to generate a play. It’s like it’s every man for himself. That’s no way to create chances.

The Stars also have one of the best hockey players in the history of hockey playing for them on the power play. They are not completely capitalizing on his talents.

Most goals scored by Jagr this season have been down front and center. When he’s there he scores the majority of the time. They should be playing that to their advantage while the iron is still hot.

Garbage goals. This is something the Stars are horrible at doing and need to focus on working on this in practice. They don’t battle enough in front of the visiting netminder or stick around to see if the puck will bounce off to create an opportunity to put the puck back on net. They lack in scoring rebounds. Garbage goals have been key for many teams in getting ahead on the scoreboard. It’s an opportunity to find some sort of desperate chance at a goal. This is not something the Stars do, even though it should be.

One play they never can get down is the two on one into the opponent’s zone: the “pass across, shot on net, score!!!” They haven’t scored a single goal this way, no matter how many times they’ve done this play. It’s not a block by the goalie or shot gone wide. 90% of the time, the second man doesn’t even catch the pass across…and he knows it’s coming.

For many games this season one of the worst things about this team was their inability to create effective passes or get the puck on stick. They spend so much time chasing the puck because of this.

That’s no way to get into the playoff race.

This is Hockey 101 the Stars are failing at miserably. Sometimes the remedy to a bad situation is getting back to basics. A few years ago, Jacques Lemaire did this to the New Jersey Devils. It made a lot of the players mad because this is the stuff they already knew and they didn’t appreciate being treated like little kids all over again. They didn’t realize that this is what it takes to make them a better, stronger team. They had lost sight of the basics in hockey…the stuff that’s required to effectively make serious runs to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Sometimes a team needs to be stripped down to the very basics because that will make them a better team going forward…even if it’s the following season when the fruits of their labor will be shown. As of now, comparing the Stars to any team in the Eastern Conference…the East would eat them alive.

The question is: what will the Stars do to survive and go on to win a spot in the playoffs?

People want to point to the youth on the blueline and the fans needing to have more patience with them. Fact of the matter is that the average age of the Stars defensive corps is 26 years old. Stephane Robidas, 36, is the lone veteran on the blueline. There are four defensemen ranging between the ages of 25-29. Three of their defensemen are 21-23.

Making the ‘youth’ excuse in this situation is not sufficient. Although, the Stars should make a play for another veteran defenseman if they are serious about making a run to the playoffs. It would help balance out the blueline in dealing with the ‘youth’ problem.

They’ve been fortunate to have Kari Lehtonen in net to save them night after night from complete disaster. But even he was injured this season and had to sit out.

If he doesn’t have a good defensive corps in front of him, everything breaks down. A good defensive unit is one that doesn’t disrespect their goalie by playing so horribly in front of him. A good defensive corps helps their goalie keep the puck out. They are the first line of defense. Lehtonen is the backup.

For some teams, if you play horribly in front of the goalie, it is disrespectful to him. It’s like a slap in the face. If you respect your goalie, you’ll make sure to play well in front of him and help him. No matter what your age, if you’re in the NHL, this is defensive hockey 101.

As far as offense goes, the Stars keep believing their best foot forward is the Jagr line with Jamie Benn. You know, that line that is only synching up 30% of the time. They haven’t plugged in and gotten on the 4G network yet. While the Whitney-Roy-Eriksson line is synched up along with the Fiddler fourth line. Why isn’t the first line? Why are the Stars banking on that first line that isn’t synched up?

Because Jagr is the selling point. Ticket sales are up thanks to their off-season free agent signing. People, including myself, head to Dallas to see Jagr play. Even fans from the Czech Republic make their way over to see him play and score goals, despite the fact he spent the lockout playing in the Czech Republic for his Kladno Knights (a team he owns).

When Jagr leaves, Benn becomes one of the major selling points.

Does this really work at all for them?

As of now, the whole strategy doesn’t work. Unless a miracle happens in these next 9 games, Jagr should look to be traded to the East so he can have some chance at going for the Stanley Cup.

If the Stars want a real shot in the dark, they need to forget about these unfortunate events that keep happening to them and focus on what they can do to change this team around. Moving back to basics would be the first step, because it is embarrassing to see game after game how something so basic like passing the puck is fouled up in every single game many times throughout the game. How does this exist in the NHL?

The wins they have gotten have been pure luck, not work ethic. Luck is not something you can count on from one game to the next. It can run out. You better have a way of generating your own good luck through strong work ethic, or you’ll be sitting outside of the playoff race at the end of next month.

At the rate the Stars are going, if things continue the way they are now, they will be playing golf in early May. I think deep down, every Stars fan/media person knows this. They’re just holding on to that little bit of hope that it won’t end so soon. They just got hockey back.

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